Broadway has long been considered the most illustrious form of theatre, with its huge-scale production value and enormous crowds to match. The writers behind these productions may tell a different story.

Broadway playwrights make about 15% of the profit from a production, which they occasionally must split multiple ways, depending on the number of writers involved. With skyrocketing production costs and drops in revenue, playwriting is becoming less and less feasible as a profession. 

Nonetheless, being a playwright can be a fascinating and rewarding profession. Continue reading to learn more about theatre and the financial aspects of keeping a production going.

How Much Money Do Playwrights Make?

Playwrights make an average of $37 an hour, $77,862 a year, which they receive in royalties. This is a percentage of the revenue produced through ticket sales. Playwrights can work on commission for a theatre during one or more productions, or they can sell their completed scripts to theatres.

Playwrights don’t make a lot of money, so many of them have side ventures that help them to pay the rent. These are things like screenwriting, acting, editing, and writing novels. 

Do Broadway Playwrights Make More Money Than Other Playwrights?

Playwrights generally earn a particular percentage of the royalties generated from a production. But is there a difference between regular and Broadway playwright salaries?

Broadway playwrights do not make more than any other playwright. The royalties received depend on how long a play runs, and Broadway plays run for as long as they are profitable. The difference depends on the theatre’s rates and the industry standard for a specific year. 

So, if a play is successful and runs for a long time, Broadway playwrights will make more money, especially if their play runs longer than most and has lower production costs. You can access a detailed breakdown of February’s figures at Deadline to get a clearer idea of the financial state of Broadway this season. 

Other Professions That Playwrights Take

Although playwrights don’t always pursue a tertiary education to be a part of the theatre world, they are talented writers with sought-after skills. They could take jobs such as copywriting, editing, content writing, writing novels, screenwriting, and advertising.

Playwrights looking to make a living in other areas can do so by becoming:

  • Copywriters: Copywriters create advertising copy and marketing materials for companies. A playwright usually has enough creative talent to do this job well.
  • Editors: Editing is already one of the responsibilities of a playwright, so they could easily apply this to editing things like books, poetry, other playwrights’ scripts, or articles.
  • Content writers: Content and information have never been more accessible nor easy to produce. A playwright could write blogs, manage social media accounts, or write articles online. 
  • Novelists: Any mind creative enough for theatre would write an excellent novel and potentially make a decent sum of money on the side. 
  • Screenwriters: Although this is a very different setting, playwrights would adapt well to a theatre-adjacent industry like screenwriting. Their focus, vision, and ability to work alone or in a team mean they would thrive in a high-pressure environment. 
  • Advertisers: Playwrights have colorful and imaginative personalities, a trait sought-after in content writing and advertising. 

These professions require attention to detail, excellent grasp and use of language, a creative and innovative mind, a talent for marketing, and good inter-communication skills. 

These are only a few examples of jobs that playwrights can pursue with their skills. For more examples of lucrative writing careers and what they entail, have a look at these seven careers in writing and editing.

The Percentage Of a Play’s Profit That Goes to Writers

The revenue generated by a production is split up into categories, and one of these is known as a profit pool. This is a system where 35% of the overall profit is pooled together, later split between the writers, directors, producers, orchestra, and other theater workers.

Of this 35% profit pool, about 15% is contractually obligated to be paid to writers. The exact amount of this equates to changes according to the actual profit, but the percentage stays the same. 

The more writers are involved, the less each will get of the writers’ share in the profit pool.

Let’s say that the revenue generated by a broadway play is $60,000 a week after the direct investors’ cut and other expenses, such as rent to the theatre, are deducted. 

Of that amount, 35% is directed towards the profit pool, and 15% is specifically paid to writers. Hypothetically, this amount split between two writers would mean that each writer would receive $9,400 for that week. 

The average median weekly earnings of full-time workers who work 40-hour weeks in the US is $1,037, measured during the first financial quarter of 2022.

This may seem like a lot in comparison, but remember that big cities like New York City, where Broadway productions typically take place, are pretty expensive to live in. Additionally, this amount is purely hypothetical and could easily be far less depending on the production and is paid at a less consistent rate than the average full-time job. 

However, this amount will never stay stagnant, as the rise in production costs has forced theatres to spend more on keeping the show running, leaving less to pay the creators involved. 

Why Theatre Productions Find It Difficult To Profit

Production costs can be quite hefty, depending on the following reasons:

  • How intricate the set is.
  • How long rehearsals take.
  • How many actors are involved, lighting and music costs, advertising, and union payments, to name a few. 

These expenses are typically charged weekly at a fixed rate once a production has started. 

Production costs are getting higher, and it’s increasingly difficult for theatre productions to make enough money to break even, let alone profit.

Other financial considerations are design and advertising, posters, social media posts, and YouTube ads. For more insight into the production costs of a play, read Backstage’s budget breakdown

The Difference Between a Broadway Play and Other Plays

The distinction between broadway and other kinds of theatre mainly has to do with the theatre’s size, the production’s length, and the type of storytelling methods within the performance. 

For example, you can tell a broadway production apart from a musical because broadway uses dialogue to tell a story, not music. Additionally, a theatre is considered a broadway theatre if the seat count is around 500. 

How Long Does a Broadway Play Run For?

A Broadway play will run for however long funding allows, which can vary drastically from play to play. The lifespan of a broadway play depends on how profitable the production is. Some broadway productions can go on for a few months, and others can run for a decade. 

Some wildly successful productions that have been running for years include Hamilton, Cats, and Wicked.

Conclusion

Broadway playwrights take home roughly 15% of the total earnings from a production, which could mean $16 or $16,000, depending on the success and lifespan of the play. Playwrights have a wealth of skills that make them assets in a range of industries, which means that they have the opportunity to make a living writing, albeit not necessarily writing plays.

Categories: Playwriting

Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.